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City ‘on cusp’ of launching rescue plan for low-wage, low-skilled Birmingham

City ‘on cusp’ of launching rescue plan for low-wage, low-skilled Birmingham

🕔28.Jan 2016

Birmingham council’s claim that it understands the importance of working with partners is about to undergo its biggest test yet with the launch of yet another ‘vision’ document, this time a strategic plan designed to reverse the city’s appalling workforce skills deficit.

Work on developing the Birmingham Skills Vision has been ongoing for 18 months, and according to Cllr Penny Holbrook, cabinet member for skills, learning and culture, the council is “on the cusp” of launching a plan “co-produced across the sector and supported by the Institute for Social Inclusion”.

Cllr Holbrook spoke out following publication of the latest gloomy prognosis of Birmingham’s structural economic problems by the Centre for Cities. The thinktank’s 2016 Cities Outlook identified Birmingham as a low wage city with a low-skilled population largely dependent on welfare benefits.

Far from regarding the Centre for Cities report as depressing, Cllr Holbrook said she welcomed the study “because it shines a spotlight on what we have known and been working to address in Birmingham since I took up this cabinet role nearly two years ago”.

She added:

Behind these stark and frightening statistics and facts, lies the story of what we are doing as a city to address the problem. And when I say ‘we as a city’ I mean just that. We have to work – and are working – closely with partners and all those in with a stake in the city’s future.

The city council is not a direct provider in this field, other than in schools and adult education. To build a better Birmingham we need everyone who invests in or delivers skills training or education to work on a city-wide vision.

Cllr Holbrook said the skills vision would be a “blueprint for addressing unemployment, mapping the future labour market, ensuring a join up between the training provided and the future jobs of the city and closing the skills gap”.

The skills vision document would address four key strands of work, she said:

  • Young people. Ensuring they have the best career advice at school, are given life skills and shown the huge array of jobs that the city offers, allowing them to make informed choices about their future and take the best pathway through education – and that the school or training provider they access are of the best quality. Working with our partners in FE, training provision, education and the world of work this is how we will address the low skills base we currently have.
  • Those with additional needs. Seventy per cent of the city’s young people not in education, training or employment have extra challenges. Whether a disability, being a looked after child or homeless. We have to invest heavily both in term of money and time in these young people. This is the only way we can change the future story of unemployment in Birmingham.
  • Adult unemployment. Whilst we must recognise we are a young city, we have to support more adults into work. Working closely with the DWP we are determined to support people back into work. Not because unemployment is a dirty word and they need punishing, but because it is as simple as being in work fundamentally improves your life.
  • Investing in the current workforce. We have to recognise that we will only address our skills shortage and in turn address the low wage issue by investing in our current workers. Employers and providers need to recognise the value of upskilling their workforce and those already in work.

Cllr Holbrook added:

There is a significant amount of money spent on skills and learning in this city, but it needs to be spent strategically and intelligently. Ensuring we develop a duel skills system where vocational routes into employment are as accessible and valued as academic ones.

Last year I launched the Birmingham Youth Promise, guaranteeing an offer of employment, training, apprenticeships or work experience to all young people in Birmingham

But we need more than a commitment to young people we need to ensure that we are building a relevant future with them, one where there will be a job at the end of it.

So there is a lot to be done, but we know what we need to do and are heading in the right direction, ensuring we have a partnership approach, intelligence-led investment and a system that invests in all people. The result will be a better trained future workforce, reduced unemployment, better quality of life, improved skill base and wages.

The plan is there, we need to get on with delivering it, and of course this is also our blueprint and challenge to the future combined authority and the Government.

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